Mikan Watch #57: Oblivion Island – Haruka and the Magic Mirror

Posted by DiGiKerot in Mikan Watch at October 19, 2011 on 1:50 pm

From the movie Oblivion Island (Haruka and the Magic Mirror), near the beginning. Thanks to Don for the screen cap – it’s kind of hard to take one in a theatrical context without being accused to film piracy ^^;

After The Princess and the Pilot (To Aru Hikuushi e no Tsuioku) had to be pulled from this years Scotland Loves Anime event due to undisclosed reasons just before tickets went on sale, it was replaced by the enigmatic Mystery Film (or as I like to refer to it, the FUSHIGI MIIiii~STRIIiii~ movie, not that anyone will remember that reference). They got a pretty great turn-out considering it was a movie that most people would have had no idea of the identity of prior to booking tickets.

Although the fact that the movie in question ended up being Oblivion Island shouldn’t really be a surprise given that I’m talking about the fact here, as it’d be a bit of shocking troll (or twist) otherwise. I was actually pretty pleased about this, given that it’s been a movie I’ve been wanting to see for a while but have failed to follow-up on (I’ve come close to ordering the Japanese release on a number of occasions), though I somewhat suspect that many members of the audience may not have even heard of the movie before.

The main reason I was interested in the movie was the participation of Hirotaka Adachi on the script. Hirotaka Adachi is more commonly known as the author Otsu-Ichi, who may not be the first name people (in the English-speaking world, at least) tends to think of in regards to popular authors of pulp and light novels, but is one of the more widely published in English outside of Hideyuki Kikuchi (obviously, Murakami doesn’t count as pulp fiction). Otsu-Ichi is kind of an interesting author – in a certain sense, he’s very much the M. Night Shyamalan of light-novels. He tends to be best known for twist fiction – stories which end with some kind of surprise. His breakthrough work was Goth, a collection of short-stories about two possibly sociopathic highschoolers in oft-grusome circumstances (all of which end with a twist), which was published by Tokyopop in English for a very small window of time.

Although for my money, his better works are his less twist-centric, more whimsical affairs – his best work in English is probably the short stories he wrote for Faust, whilst his best longer work is probably the Black Fairy Tale part of Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse (though that mixes a taste of Cronenberg-esque body horror in with the whimsy). As such, a Otsu-Ichi penned kids movie was very pertinent to my interests.

Saying that, it’s a very peculiar movie. It’s tricky to overlook how the movie looks – it’s CG, but technically not really fully CG. The characters are all computer rendered, but the backgrounds are often at least in part hand drawn. It’s actually a little jarring throughout the movies opening act, though once Haruka reaches the titular Oblivion Island it’s less of an issue, partially due to the increase of 3D background elements, partially because it fits better with the otherworldly nature of the place. The stiffness of the character animation is perhaps a bit more of an issue, but even that is fine when it needs to be.

Overall, though, it’s a movie with a very peculiar atmosphere. A lot of that undoubtedly comes down to it being written by a novelist and directed by someone who is generally a live-action movie director. There’s moments where it’s slightly tricky to fathom out exactly what age bracket the movie is aiming for – the movie aims young, but the timing of some of the humour is so off that it comes across as being rather more juvenile that I suspect it intended to be – which slightly betrays his inexperience in the medium, but on the other hand he completely nails the spectacle and tension of the action sequences it climaxes with. Similarly, the movie almost seems too straightforward in places, but it all comes together and crescendos into a satisfying finale.

To it’s benefit, though, it never really meanders meaninglessly as some of these movies have recently – it kept on purpose, and was satisfyingly consistent in the message it was trying to convey.

Also, as odd as the visuals can look at times, and as awkward as the character animation can look, man, this movie gives you an awful lot to look at. Some of the vistas in Oblivion Island, constructed from a hotchpotch of recognisable objects, are occasionally perhaps too busy – it’s easy to take your attention of the main action trying to identify just what things are constructed with. Or that might just be me looking for places where fragments of Mikan Boxes might have been used in construction. I’m like that.

To close out by getting back to Otsu-Ichi for a moment, I have to admit, I was a little surprised – pleasantly, might I add – that they didn’t include the twist I was expecting them to in the movies climax. There’s a few moments where I was such they were hinting at it, but it never actually pulled it.

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